But Spafford continued to paint and print, even collaborating with his photographer son on several exhibitions, starting with a series depicting the labors of Hercules, which they exhibited in the early 2000s at the Francine Seders gallery today. today closed.
Last summer, father and son teamed up again for an exhibition at the Perry and Carlson Gallery in Mount Vernon. The exhibition featured landscape photographs that Mafford took during a family trip to Greece, on which Spafford later painted his iconic silhouettes. Gallery owner Christian Carlson says this kind of long-term family collaboration is a rare thing, something he was proud to showcase. A posthumous exhibition, Michael Spafford: Of Gods and Heroesis currently on display at the Russo Lee Gallery in Portland.
“Michael was one of those people who thought it was really about the job, it wasn’t about him,” says Barbara Earl Thomas. “In a way, he was the perfect example of an artist who went out and approached ideas and created work that demanded to be brought to light, with no promise of what would come of it other than the fact that you did it.”
And while his peers in the art world recognized his accomplishments, the fact that Spafford was not better known bothered his son and daughter-in-law. In the spring of 2018, the duo led an unusual city-wide retrospective of Spafford’s art, a three-gallery exhibition they titled Epic works.
Seattle galleries (Greg Kucera, Woodside/Braseth, and Davidson) were simultaneously showing a wide range of Spafford’s works, ranging from prints and drawings to large paintings. Spafford attended openings, spoke to crowds, and collaborated on a book that accompanied the exhibits.
“I think that Epic works did was somehow cure him of the residue of the [state Capitol building] controversy,” Dutton says. “The galleries that stepped up and eager to get on board in this unusual way were just healing.”
During the last year of his life, Spafford’s health declined. After months in a skilled nursing facility, his family returned him to the Montlake home he shared with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. They emptied the living room so that Spafford could continue working, until the end of his life.
According to Mafford, Michael Spafford was not concerned about his legacy; it survives in the people whose lives it has touched.
Former student Thomas says Spafford didn’t just teach him how to make art. He showed her what it was like to live life with confidence and courage.
“Michael survived when his beliefs were not popular.” said Thomas. “I’ve seen life take so much from him, but I’ve seen him get up and go back to work, and not back down.”